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Summary Article: Russian literature
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Literary works produced in Russia and later in the USSR. Religious works and oral tradition in Slavonic survive from the 11th–17th centuries. The golden age of the 19th century produced the poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin and novels by such literary giants as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy, and in drama the innovative genius of Anton Chekhov. During the Soviet era many writers, among them Alexander Solzhenitsyn, were imprisoned or exiled.

Early literature The earliest known works are sermons and chronicles and the unique prose poem ‘Tale of the Armament of Igor’, belonging to the period in the 11th and 12th centuries when the centre of literary culture was Kiev. By the close of the 14th century, leadership had passed to Moscow, which was isolated from developments in the West until the 18th century; in this period are the political letters of Ivan the Terrible; the religious writings of the priest Avvakum (1620–1681), who was the first to use vernacular Slavonic (rather than the elaborate Church Slavonic language) in literature; and traditional oral folk poems dealing with legendary and historical heroes, which were collected in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Modern literature Modern Russian literature begins with Mikhail Lomonosov (1711–1765), who fused elements of Church Slavonic with colloquial Russian to create an effective written medium. Among the earlier writers, working directly under French influence, were the fabulist (writer of fables) Ivan Krylov (1768–1844) and the historian Nikolai Karamzin (1765–1826).

In the 19th century poetry reached its greatest heights with Pushkin and the tempestuously Byronic Mikhail Lermontov. Typifying the intellectual unrest of the mid-19th century are the works of the prose writer Alexander Herzen (1812–1870), known for his memoirs. Fiction was dominated first by Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852), then by Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883), Ivan Goncharov (1812–1891), Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. In their wake came Nikolai Leskov (1831–1895), the morbid Vsevolod Garshin (1855–1888), and Vladimir Korolenko (1853–1921.) Maxim Gorky rose above the pervasive pessimism of the 1880s and found followers in Alexander Kuprin (1870–1938) and Ivan Bunin; in contrast are the depressingly negative Leonid Andreyev and Mikhail Artsybashev. To the more mystic school of thought belong the novelist Dmitri Merezhkovsky (1865–1941) and the poet and philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, who moulded the thought of the Symbolist poet Alexander Blok.

Literature of the Soviet era Many writers left the country at the time of the Revolution, but in the 1920s two groups emerged: the militantly socialist LEF (Left Front of the Arts) led by the Futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky, and the fellow travellers of Lenin's New Economic Policy, including Boris Pilnyak (1894–1938), Boris Pasternak, Alexei Tolstoy, and Ilya Ehrenburg. Literary standards reached a low ebb during the first five-year plan (1928–32), when facts were compulsorily falsified in the effort to fortify socialism, but the novelist Mikhail Sholokhov and the poets Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Nikolai Tikhonov were notable in this period.

More freedom was allowed by the subsequent realism movement, seen for example in the works of Simonov and the poet Alexander Tvardovsky. During World War II censorship was again severe and some leading Georgian writers disappeared in purges. In the thaw after Stalin's death, Vladimir Dudintsev (1918–98) published his Not by Bread Alone (1956), and the journal Novy Mir/New World encouraged bolder new writing, but this did not last. Landmark events were the controversy over the award of a Nobel Prize to Pasternak, certain public statements by the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and the imprisonment in 1966 of the novelists Andrei Sinyavsky (1926–97) and Yuli Daniel (1926–1988) for smuggling their works abroad for publication. Other writers fled the country, such as Anatoly Kuznetsov, whose novel The Fire (1969) obliquely criticized the regime, and Solzhenitsyn, who found a different kind of disillusionment in the West. To evade censorship writers have also resorted to allegory, as in for example Vasili Aksyonov's The Steel Bird (1979), which grotesquely satirizes dictatorship. Among those apart from all politics was the nonsense-verse writer Kornei Chukovsky.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, previously overshadowed or suspect national literatures in regions such as central Asia began to revive.


Chekhov, Anton and Gorky, Maxim

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